On Wednesday, we heard the vague, dreamlike associations of light and water in Claude Debussy’s three orchestral Nocturnes. As a followup, here are three excerpts from a recently-released Debussy album by Korean pianist, and 2015 International Chopin Competition-winner, Seong-Jin Cho. The album includes three suites for solo piano: the Suite bergamasque, Children’s Corner, and Images, as well as the solo piano work, L’isle joyeuse.
Debussy’s six Images were written between 1901 and 1905. The first, Reflets dans l’eau (“Reflections in the Water), brings us back the sonic impressions of color and light we heard in the Nocturnes. Here, we get a sense of shimmering, playful ripples on the surface of a pond. But something comes alive in this music which takes us far beyond the pictorial. (Following much harmonic searching, listen to the beautiful way the main motive pokes through around the 4:03 mark, as if to say, “Here I am!”) There are moments in this piece which seem to anticipate the music of George Gershwin. Listen, and see if you agree:
Cloches à travers les feuilles (“Bells through the Leaves”) opens the second book of Images. Distant, hazy church bells, perhaps from the tiny village of Rahon, France, blend with the tones of the Javanese gamelan. Beginning around 1:35, notice the way our ear is pulled from one jarring surprise to another, amid an atmosphere of ominous mystery.
Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut (“Descent of the moon upon the temple that is no more”) is the second piece in Book II. There are some striking parallel chords, evoking the sounds of Asia and the gamelan.
Photograph by Harald Hoffmann